Manawatu Standard

Kiwi women’s crews set to rule the lanes

- Ian Anderson

Be prepared to usher in the new era of New Zealand’s Olympic rowing stars, with women at the forefront.

Bar the sensationa­l Eversswind­ell twins, with their double Games triumphs, New Zealand’s prestigiou­s rowing history at the Olympic Games has centred around men.

New Zealand won its first Olympic rowing medal in 1920 in Antwerp via single sculler Darcy Hadfield, the first of 24 rowing gongs for the nation, of which 19 have been collected by men.

That’s chiefly due to the Olympics not making rowing a sport for women until 1976.

Hence most of our best-known rowing moments at the Games have come from the men – the eights gold in Munich in 1972, Mahe Drysdale’s three memorable medals, the dominance of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray and the barnstormi­ng finish of Joseph Sullivan and Nathan Cohen at London 2012.

But Tokyo promises to belong to the Kiwi women, with all five boats having a shot at the medals.

It’s expected to be a massive Games for Grace Prendergas­t and Kerri Gowler, who have a genuine chance of becoming the first Kiwi rowers to win two medals at one Olympic Games.

Prendergas­t and Gowler will compete in the women’s pair and women’s eight events, with the New Zealand boat starting as favourite to win gold in both.

The Kiwi pair won the world championsh­ip title in 2019 and 2017 and were silver medallists in 2018 and 2015. They will be seeking a heat win first-up to limit the number of races they’ll need to contest in a quest for dual gold, with Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Spain likely to be their major rivals.

New Zealand sent a women’s eight to the Olympic Games for the first time four years ago in Rio and the boat finished an agonising fourth. But they have continued to improve and scored a dominant win at the 2019 world championsh­ips – the last time all the world’s top crews met before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Traditiona­l powerhouse­s the United States and Romania, along with Australia, Great Britain and Canada, will be the expected rivals.

Gary Hay, coach of the women’s pair and eight, said there isn’t a particular number of medals targeted by the team.

‘‘It’s something that’s never discussed within the rowing environmen­t, we don’t talk about medals or where we think we might get.’’

Hay acknowledg­ing making prediction­s would be tough, given the lack of recent internatio­nal competitio­n, but is optimistic of a strong showing.

‘‘We haven’t faced internatio­nal competitio­n for a couple of years now, we can only do what we do. We’re in a good environmen­t that we can get a pretty good gauge on how other crews are going based on our own performanc­es, that’s all that we can do.

‘‘It’s the Kiwi way, we just don’t put any emphasis on any of that. We just try and stay, I guess, humble and nice and calm and quietly confident, of course. We’ve trained pretty hard, so we take a view that if there’s anyone better than us then good luck to them.’’

While there’ll be no Drysdale or Murray at Tokyo, Bond is chasing a third successive Olympic medal, this time as part of the eight after pairs glory in London and Rio. It might be too much to expect a

third gold for the 35-year-old against the likes of Germany and Great Britain, but New Zealand showed enough in qualifying at the ‘last chance’ regatta in Lucerne in May that a place on the podium could be in reach.

Tokyo will see some new emerging men’s talent, via single sculler Jordan Parry, double sculls crew member Jack Lopas, and the ‘baby’ of the eight, Dan Williamson.

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